When most people picture diving in Honduras, they imagine clear, warm water looking at beautiful reefs, colorful fish, as part of their relaxing vacation in paradise. There is however, a more somber diver in Honduras, the lobster diver.
Most lobster fishermen are located in the Moskitia region of the country. They live in a remote villages with very few choices in how to make a living. Some subsist on farming or fishing or the occasional tourist. But many young men choose to dive for lobster. They line up at the opportunity to get on board a commercial fishing boat with the potential to make the equivalent of $400 per month, which is twice the average monthly wage. They want the money. And they are willing to gamble for it with their lives.
Industry boats take out young men with virtually no diving experience or knowledge send them into the depths. Over and over and over again. Down to 60, 80, 100 plus feet with no surface interval, controlled ascents, or safety stops. All of this diving terminology may be foreign to non-divers, but when you plan to visit the underwater realm, it is necessary to learn the lingo and theory behind it in order to safely return to tierra firma. If you do not, you may be in pain, paralyzed, or dead.
If you ever visit the Moskitia coastal villages, you will see many “bent” divers, destined to live the rest of their lives as cripples. These divers have experienced decompression sickness from diving out of the limits. Some are able to seek hyperbaric treatment, some cannot make the trek or afford the visit. Yet there are still men willing to be the almost guaranteed next victim in hopes of making some cash. The options are limited. What can they do?
Well, hopefully the answer is on its way. After decades of allowing lobster diving, Honduras may finally make the responsible choices to help the Moskitia people afford another way to live. The outcome is currently in deliberation somewhere in the government maze.
Two decisions need to made. One, stop lobster diving and two, offer an alternative income. Several years ago, an initiative set by OSPESCA (regional fisheries association of governments) was agreed upon by all Central American countries to stop hunting lobster on SCUBA. All agreed except Nicaragua and Honduras, the only countries actually affected and actively diving for lobster. Cessation was to be in 2011. Both countries extended their promise. Nicaragua will continue to support lobster diving for 3 more years. Honduras is supposed to stop in July of 2013, next month. If stopped what will be the alternative for the divers?
The Centro de Estudios Marinos (Center for Marine Science) in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution’s Spatial Ecology of Marine Protected areas have proposed making a large cordoned off region in which only the people of the Moskitia will have access to. An “exclusive use” area if you will. No more commercial/industrial boats in the area. The indigenous Moskito people will set up their own sustainable lobster fisheries and not be dependent on the larger companies. They will be taught how to use lobster shades, and free dive for the catch instead of using tanks.
There are potentially thousands of lives to be saved by implementing the positive decisions. Let’s see if Honduras takes an active role in helping their constituents, or if the decision makers will leave it until the next elections in November and let the next regime make the decisions.
In the meantime, Moskito divers continue to dive. Their families and the rest of the country waits to hear the outcome which will determine their fate, fortune, and future.